Urban agriculture education, Post 1

This is the first in a six-post series on the urban agriculture education proposal from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

On Feb. 5, 2008, Kent Mullinix, PhD, presented a Garden City Lands vision that is at least as relevant today. Even though the ideal place to implement it has not been available, it has been put into practice in initial ways and showing some promise.

Dr. Mullinix is Director, Sustainable Agri-Food Systems, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His audience was the planning committee of Richmond council and many interested citizens, including Dr. Alice Wong, the future MP.

This post features the beginning of the presentation. It is a foundation for understanding the need for urban agriculture, and it is also the foundation for a vision of urban agriculture education that fits well with the Garden City Lands. Here’s what the expert had to say:

Urban agriculture has great potential to address many issues pertinent to the achievement of sustainable society. It’s time has come. Allow me to share some background information.

  1. For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population is urbanized. Seventy-five percent of the population in developed countries is urbanized.
  2. Three percent of Canadians reside on farms, with 1.4% of the population engaged in farming. This means that 97% of Canadians have limited or no connection to agriculture.
  3. Cheap, high-quality food is expected and taken for granted.  We in North America spend approximately 11% of our disposable income on food (compared to 20+ % in Europe), and for our agriculture sector the return to management is increasingly marginal.
  4. In the name of “economic efficiency,” agricultural land must compete with other uses (parking lots, shopping centers, housing, etc.). There is increasing pressure on agricultural land.  Since 1971 in Canada, 12,000 square kilometres of cropland, half the dependable agricultural land (class 1, 2 or 3), has been lost to urban sprawl.
  5. Globally, cropland has been reduced by 86 million hectares since the mid-1980s (equal to twice Canada’s total cropland).
  6. Most of the world’s arable land is in production, and Green Revolution technological gains have been fully exploited (maximized).  No technologies to increase yield are forthcoming.
  7. The world population is growing: 6.5 billion today, with 9.5 to 14 billion anticipated by mid-century.
  8. Global affluence is growing, resulting in a tightening between food supply and demand. Croplands are increasingly devoted to production of high-value export crops instead of regional food production.
  9. The ecological, social and economic limitations and negative consequences of the modern, global agri-food system are increasingly evident and problematic.
  10. Exacerbating this is global industrial agriculture’s complete dependence on and excessive use of fossil fuels. Many experts foresee an imminent end to the global agri-food system and call for reinvention of regionalized agri-food systems.

Thus the sustainability of our cities (in terms of the agri-food systems urban dwellers are dependent on) is called into question.  Urban agriculture can and will play a preeminent role in addressing the issue of sustainability.

Urban agriculture, the production of food for cities, in or near cities, is a way of reducing vulnerability and dependence on an ecologically unsound system. It is a significant means to contribute to the advancement of sustainable urban communities—socially, economically and environmentally. It can be argued that urban agriculture should be an expected and inherent element of urban land use planning and sustainable development. 

The next post in this six-post series is here.

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